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Price Point Question: What Amount of Money gets you a given level of quality?


Winchester
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I am very new to this hobby. I have been reading a lot daily and try to do the best I can. Bought QTY 4 nihonto blades so far this year and it is truly a love and appreciation of the beauty and craft.

 

I hope my inquiry may--in general terms--help others.

 

Other then having a lot of luck, what is a collector to expect at the following price points (Nihonto):

 

$1,500.00 USD 

 

$3,000.00 USD

 

$5,000.00 USD

 

$7,500.00 USD

 

$10,000.00 USD

 

$15,000.00 USD

 

$25,000.00 USD

 

$30,000.00 USD

 

$50,000.00 USD and above.

 

I understand it is a lot in a small message; perhaps pick one price point and provide commentary?

 

I also understand it is a very difficult question to ask, given the complexities. So, let us assume all is good on condition, no koshirae, just the blade.

 

Thanks and I hope this helps and is of interest to others. Best, Brian

 

 

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Every sword is different Brian.  It is hard to find a juyo katana for under $20,000.  Upper limits are hard to set, as a famous maker sword with Hozon papers can be worth over $100,000 in some cases (e.g. Kiyomaro or Nagamitsu...).  Good entry level pieces can be found at the bottom of your range; as prices go from $5000-10,000, the condition of the polish and the quality of the mounts tend to increase dramatically.  In-polish, tokubetsu hozon katana from jo-saku makers and better with nice mounts can be had in the $10,000-20,000 range.  Just a very rough answer.  Your question is like saying I have a car in my garage.  How much is it worth?

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There will be many here who are much more experienced in the nuances of what determines market price.

 

In my understanding these would be the key variables (one may outweigh another depending on sword)

 

Age of blade - koto>Shinto>shinshinto 

Popularity of school/maker (there is a heirarchy)

Condition/attributes of blade - ubu, suriage, signed, nengo, cutting test, polish

Papers attained (Juyo + will generally not go below a certain price as stated above)

Provenance (daimyo owned etc)

 

As to how important each variable is in relation to each other is where nuance and experience comes in

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There are also the variables of:

  • who's selling it and where from (private sale, dealer/business, eBay, NMB sale, Facebook, etc),
  • how much risk you're prepared to accept (related to the point above)
  • how big the market is in your country (e.g. lots of swords/choice in the USA, not so much in the UK)

 

Jon

 

 

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If you want a VERY rough guide, that has many many exceptions, here is my own personal opinion, based on USA sales and availability, and avoiding higher end dealers and auctions:
This assuming pre WW2 Nihonto.

 

$1,500.00 USD - Decent polish wakizashi in koshirae, no papers. Out of polish katana in shirasaya

 

$3,000.00 USD - Papered wakizashi in polish and with koshirae or good maker in shirasaya. Lower end katana in good condition, no papers.

 

$5,000.00 USD - Good maker, papered and polished wakizashi. Or good katana in decent polish in shirasaya. Low end katana in koshirae in decent polish.

 

$7,500.00 USD - Decent katana, papered and polished, with average to good koshirae.

 

$10,000.00 USD - Good maker, katana in good koshirae and in polish. Maybe TH papered.

 

From here up, I'm not confident or qualified to give an opinion.

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Just my two cents. In general, a lot also depends on The Person. First you can’t put a price on knowledge. Buy books, study blades, read this forum every chance you get and talk to as many knowledgeable people as you can. Look at as many blades in hand as you can. At this point try and I repeat TRY and decide WHAT YOU LIKE and which direction YOU would like to go in. If you can do that ( I couldn’t ) then you are off to a good start. I was told early on that a Blade Picks You, You Don’t Pick The Blade. Buy Only What YOU Like, if you don’t have enough money, SAVE. You are really the only one that can decide what a blade Is worth To YOU. I believe that if you purchase a blade just because someone else thinks it is the Best, or because it is at the top of the food chain, or it is priced so high that it must be good, BUT YOU DON’T LIKE, You will never really be happy with it. I know this doesn’t really answer your question and I agree with all the responses above and it is kinda nice to have some kind of idea, but just thought I would put it out there. Hope you always find the blades that make you happy and good luck in the future    
     MikeR

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I think the original question might be bit too large, and pricing can be very variable as different people can even price the same item quite differently.

 

Here are 10 different items from Early Muromachi Bizen smith Yasumitsu, at 10 different price points. I will put price in yen as that is to me most logical as they are/were in Japan. I just chose Yasumitsu by random as there was some discussion about wakizashi by him and Morimitsu a while ago. You could make similar thing for any smith and see that there can be large gap between the high tier vs. low tier.

 

Tachi (signed) - 6,7M - https://www.touken-sakata.com/刀剣一覧/太刀-銘-備州長船康光-古刀-上作-業物/

Wakizashi (signed and dated) - 5,0M - https://katananokura.jp/SHOP/2012-W01.html

Tachi (signed and dated) - 2,5M - https://web.archive.org/web/20130711003641/http:/www.seiyudo.com:80/ka-060313.htm

Tachi (signed) - 1,8M - https://www.aoijapan.net/katana-yasumitsuosafune/

Wakizashi (signed and dated) - 1,3M - https://www.nipponto.co.jp/swords5/WK328357.htm

Wakizashi (signed and dated) - 1,1M - https://www.aoijapan.net/wakizashi-bishu-osafune-yasumitsu/

Katana (mumei) - 1,0M - https://www.aoijapan.net/katana-ubu-mumei-osafune-yasumitsu/

Wakizashi (signed and dated) - 600k - https://www.aoijapan.com/wakizashi-bishu-osafune-yasumitsu-3rd-generation/

Wakizashi (signed and dated) - 500k - https://www.e-sword.jp/sale/2009/0910_2041syousai.htm

Wakizashi (mumei) - 300k - https://www.aoijapan.net/wakizashi-mumei-osafune-yasumitsu/

 

High price does not necessarily always correlate to high quality but I think it usually does when working with reputable dealers. People can ask whatever they want. However I do think in Japanese market the dealers are very aware about the prices and ask accordingly. Of course sometimes it is only logical to test the waters.

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Jussi,

A good post but we are swiftly moving to very deep waters for a beginner here. Some points to explain the price differences across your examples: overall quality/condition (this includes signed or not, how thin/polished, ware or not, etc), generation (whether by the shodai/nidai/sandai), long or short sword, with or without high-quality koshirae, and finally (the minefield in its own right) what paper it has. 

 

Unfortunately, commercially, the level  of certificate (Hozon, vs TH, vs J vs TJ etc) or even the type (NBTHK vs NTHK vs Fujishiro paper etc) has a substantial bearing on price. Sometimes people exploit that for their benefit at the expense of inexperienced people. A blade could be unpapered or 'only' Hozon and yet it might be very rare and desirable and high-quality (but happens to be a 'hidden' blade). Refer to https://blog.yuhindo.com/ladder-theory/

 

To take it a step deeper, even with the same smith, if a blade lacks certain characteristics or a type of signature, it might not command the same price. Refer to https://blog.yuhindo.com/context/#more-840

 

There is so much to say on this topic and so little time....

 

Alas, this is one of the more interesting threads in a long while and we should keep contributing here.

 

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Thanks everyone for your replies so far; it is appreciated. Even as a very early collector, I know the subject and question has multiple considerations; however, I also intentionally left it open ended. Sometimes you don't know what questions you should be asking and may be surprised of things you never thought to ask about.

 

I collect for my own interest and not for resale. I have been reading, studying, watching auctions in other countries and domestically...almost on a daily basis since April this year. Which, is no time at all in the larger picture! :rotfl: I am looking forward to a lifetime of learning. Best to you and yours, Brian

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I think some of these offers do come at a discount because of later generation.

 

I would argue that when retail prices are concerned, everything below 4K USD are non-collectibles. Does not mean one can't pick a good name from something unsigned unpapered and likely poorly polished in this category.

5K USD is the level where one can on occasion buy a good blade with some issues like out of polish or unpapered. Sort of still in the gambling territory or its just not a great blade to begin with. Casino land for those who like the feeling.

6-10K is where you typically find rounded packages with every box checked but obviously no stellar names. If shinto can still be a very good sword.

10-20K you start seeing koto daito from genuinely good schools.

20K is junior Juyo usually from one of the Yamato branches.

40-60k is either serious Juyo, like Ichimonji, or H+ to top level shinto smith like Sukehiro, or TH papered top class koto like signed Fukuoka Ichimonji with some blemishes.

70-125k: I would argue this is top class sword bought below retail. You can get a good Juyo Norishige mumei or Go at this price level, but only directly from a collector. Its also a common price level for good name JuBis but that's the kind of material that has its affecianados and its detractors.

200k: TJ, major name. 150-200K is a typical price level for the top of the line Japanese shop trading in such material. 

400-1000k: First class name, high provenance sword, likely Bunkazai.

 

 

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Expanding on this, I will voice an unpopular opinion that a differential between TH and Juyo prices for the top names reflects the certainty of attribution. Kiyomaro or Sukehiro, signed, papered are close to 100% certain, and a very bright Kiyomaro will cost a lot with or without Juyo papers. TH Norishige or his developed type (with matsukawa) will likely cost similar money whether TH or Juyo, while his work without matsukawa will not, as there is less certainty of attribution and quality of those blades also varies a bit more. Masamune with TH, Juyo and TJ are in the different world of prices.

etc. etc. etc.

For "'lesser names" a price differential between TH and Juyo is more a function of expectation whether it makes to Juyo or not. 

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Brian, the most valuable commodities in sword collecting are knowledge and experience.  These can be had a myriad of ways, but extensive reading, attending sword shows and, if you have the inclination, buying and selling in order to learn by ones experiences and, especially, mistakes.  With these things, and hard work, there are still plenty of undiscovered treasures that you can unearth at sword shows or on eBay or in other auctions.  They are still rare, but can be found.  I am aware of friends finding important swords or fittings, and I have found a number of them myself, at prices less than $3000.  Of course, they will usually require shinsa, restoration, more shinsa etc.  If this is one's temperament, a person can build a wonderful collection on "sweat equity".

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1 hour ago, Rivkin said:

I think some of these offers do come at a discount because of later generation.

 

I would argue that when retail prices are concerned, everything below 4K USD are non-collectibles. Does not mean one can't pick a good name from something unsigned unpapered and likely poorly polished in this category.

5K USD is the level where one can on occasion buy a good blade with some issues like out of polish or unpapered. Sort of still in the gambling territory or its just not a great blade to begin with. Casino land for those who like the feeling.

6-10K is where you typically find rounded packages with every box checked but obviously no stellar names. If shinto can still be a very good sword.

10-20K you start seeing koto daito from genuinely good schools.

20K is junior Juyo usually from one of the Yamato branches.

40-60k is either serious Juyo, like Ichimonji, or H+ to top level shinto smith like Sukehiro, or TH papered top class koto like signed Fukuoka Ichimonji with some blemishes.

70-125k: I would argue this is top class sword bought below retail. You can get a good Juyo Norishige mumei or Go at this price level, but only directly from a collector. Its also a common price level for good name JuBis but that's the kind of material that has its affecianados and its detractors.

200k: TJ, major name. 150-200K is a typical price level for the top of the line Japanese shop trading in such material. 

400-1000k: First class name, high provenance sword, likely Bunkazai.

 

 

Directionally right but some major misstaments. You cannot get a JuBi in the 70-125k price bracket unless I suppose it is completely discredited, so effectively one of those 30% of JuBi that everyone knows is not right but kept as such due to a historic attribution.  Even the discredited ones are north of 18-20m yen and the good, legit ones are on average close to 30m yen. So if you can find us a good Kamakura Soshu or Bizen or Yamashiro JuBi  in that price bracket, I would be curious to learn what it is please. One could take the risk of having it declassified and repapered.  
 

An obvious omission in that quote is the 20-40k bracket, where one can get all sorts of what is being referred to above as “junior” Juyo. 

 

To throw some more oil in the flames: Juyo in the criteria of NBTHK is approximately at the same level as JuBi and TJ at the same level of JuBu. So you could have a marvellous sword at TJ which is better than some JuBu blades (different categories : one a central government designation and the other - NBTHK one). 
 

 But in all of that, people are becoming focused on papers as a proxy for quality or smith or importance. Using such shortcuts is dangerous. 

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I'll try and answer it from my perspective which is also a new collector's with a tiny bit under his belt. 

 

$1500 and under: every book you'll need. Decent showato gunto, older blade/gendaito guntos with obvious problems, possibly NTHK papered mumei wakizashi/yari, non-papered (or maybe green/white papers) mumei katanas in koshirae or signed katanas in old polish with flaws that are cool to own and present pretty well, but are not art pieces but more historical pieces.

 

$3000 is in the realm of NBTHK Hozon katanas and wakizashis.  Not going to get top tier smiths/schools but can get a papered blade in good+ polish with koshirae or shirasaya and both if lucky.  Gendaito guntos by some of the more notable ww2 era smiths.  A good+ polished Naginata.  Got my Tokubetsu Hozon katana for under this price within the last 6 months (not all toku hozons are created equal of course).  At this bracket it can be longer/harder to resell them if needed.  Or not, depends on your buy/blade.  Again, probably not "art pieces" but some solid examples.

 

$5000 run and ask for help from wiser individuals. More "art" and more 'historical" than the previous bracket.  At this bracket it can be longer/harder to resell them if needed.  Or not, depends on your buy/blade.

 

Repeat the previous answer for every price above this. =|:^)

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As a rough guide Brian hit the nail on the head and i guess the price range he mentions applies to the vast majority of collectors.

 

Also, as mentioned, it is just a rough guide.

 

You may come across TH swords at low prices if your lucky, occasionally find them on consignment by someone that just wants a quick sale

 

You might come across cheaper  swords that may not have been made by higher ranking smiths but are appealing because they are  quite rare and not seen for sale very often

 

All depends on your budget and what appeals to you

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I agree with Michael that this is very interesting and at the same time extremely complex topic. Personally I am not good at finacial / business mindset and even though I have been following the market for items that I find personally interesting for multiple years, I get very often puzzled by item pricing. I do consider myself as historical collector first and not an art collector, therefore I might value some things differently than those aiming for top end historical art swords. However I think that art collecting and historically focused collecting are definately not excluding each other as very often the same item would be held in high regard in both mindsets.

 

I took Yasumitsu as an example as I knew I had great variation that I could find easily but I think similar thing can be seen in work by any smith (excluding the super top / extremely rare). And you can look into how great gap between high vs. low tier some mumei attributions have, and that is one very complex field to step into. I think at one end of the scope are the items of which only few comparable items are remaining in the world, pricing of those can be extremely difficult (some can be priced very highly while some can seem to be priced much lower than one might expect). Of course I think dealers are the ones who would have the best grasp on the current market. They are pricing the items to the prices they see potential for the items.

 

Personally for me collecting is about emotions. Not the most logical or financially best way but I feel I must be emotionally attached to the item. Therefore I would be willing to potentially pay above market prices on the items I really like, while I might not go for higher quality item that would be financially and logically a better deal.

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A simple lecturer like me knows little to nothing about those high ranking paper things and I am grateful to be enlightened.

There are two small observations which I however consider important.

First, a lion's portion of high paper sales are private rather than price advertised on the internet, and they occur in a "descending auction" manner, when an intermediary (dealer) first contacts the highest rollers ("whales" in vernacular American) offering them an item for X yen, then in half a year he offers it to "regulars" at 0.8X and if nothing works it might easily end up with some riff-raff for 0.5X. So whether a JuBi is worth 300K or 150K USD can be a matter of circumstances as much as concerning the blade itself. This unfortunately extends down the spectrum as well, simply since Hiroshi Saito stating "these are solid gold mounts of incomparable quality" versus me stating the same carries different weight and thus the offer price will be different.

 

Second observation is the statement "TJ is the same as better half of JB" is a self-serving position of NBTHK which is repeated a bit often. The owners of state versus NBTHK paperwork tend to be different and the market is different. Japanese treat state-issued papers - differently. They treat state employees - differently.

Above all, foreign ownership of Jubi and above is not considered appropriate by a solid portion of Japanese society.

For Americans out there, its a rough equivalent of publicly stating "I think some women are not too smart".

Expect the point of discomfort to be brought up in not too subtle a manner.

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9 hours ago, Rivkin said:

A simple lecturer like me knows little to nothing about those high ranking paper things and I am grateful to be enlightened.

There are two small observations which I however consider important.

First, a lion's portion of high paper sales are private rather than price advertised on the internet, and they occur in a "descending auction" manner, when an intermediary (dealer) first contacts the highest rollers ("whales" in vernacular American) offering them an item for X yen, then in half a year he offers it to "regulars" at 0.8X and if nothing works it might easily end up with some riff-raff for 0.5X. So whether a JuBi is worth 300K or 150K USD can be a matter of circumstances as much as concerning the blade itself. This unfortunately extends down the spectrum as well, simply since Hiroshi Saito stating "these are solid gold mounts of incomparable quality" versus me stating the same carries different weight and thus the offer price will be different.

 

Second observation is the statement "TJ is the same as better half of JB" is a self-serving position of NBTHK which is repeated a bit often. The owners of state versus NBTHK paperwork tend to be different and the market is different. Japanese treat state-issued papers - differently. They treat state employees - differently.

Above all, foreign ownership of Jubi and above is not considered appropriate by a solid portion of Japanese society.

For Americans out there, its a rough equivalent of publicly stating "I think some women are not too smart".

Expect the point of discomfort to be brought up in not too subtle a manner.

This post raises interesting issues: indeed there are various reasons why JuBi and JuBu are not to be exported out of Japan. However, there are and there have been foreign owners of such blades both inside and outside of Japan. We are aware of a few. In the last few DTI shows I attended, there were always 3-5 JuBi around at some of the higher-end dealers' stalls: Kurokawa san, Takahashi san, Iida san, etc . There could have been JuBu too but these were not publicly displayed and discussed - most likely deals at such level were done in camera. 

Another clarification necessary is that dealers in Japan have strong commercial interests and several have in fact offered to sell JuBi blades to foreigners - all of that with the understanding that the blade would be deregistered as JuBi and one would need to re-paper it (if the buyer so wished) via the NBTHK system. What is right is, of course, the still high prestige that the JuBi designation carries. There are many (and there will be more) TJ blades but JuBi are scarce and their number is limited and decreasing. So, even if a blade is not at Juyo/TJ level per se but carries some historical association with a prominent family, has interesting history or tradition-borne attribution, it could be a JuBi. 

 

In most instances, for the vast majority of us, these discussions are hypothetical and the blades debated, out of reach. 

 

To revert to Brian 'Winchester''s original question, what we can do is point him to some of the more prolific dealer websites where he can peruse what he could buy at different price levels. Aoijapan is appropriate, due to its high volume and historic data. In fact, it had the cheapest JuBi I had ever come across (from memory around 11-12m yen, but definitely not in the $70k ballpark). There are many dealer websites catalogued here on this forum, and some are also regular posters here - Ray, etc.

 

Jussi in fact had collated a lot of past data on sword pricing: 

 

 

For the beginner, it is best to read, discuss with fellow collectors, visit shows and dealers to experience blades first hand and after a while, figure out where he is in terms of preference vs economics. 

 

 

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I think for Bunkazai level stuff that has current government/state designation the process of acquiring them would be much more difficult as I believe the ownership needs to be known (yes there are some Bunkazai that current whereabouts are not known). I remember few years ago I accidentally stubmled upon the list that had recent changes of ownership for Bunkazai yearly and for many the monetary amount was listed too. I believe due to Japanese laws it might be that these are made public so that those interested can see. I do agree with Michael that these top tier items might be steering the thread bit off track as in general Kokuhō, JuBu and JuBi are kinda unobtainable for the majority.

 

Also on thing that I have realized in recent years is that market is evolving constantly, so sometimes looking at the old prices might not be the best thing. What something was worth 10 years ago might not be the same today, as it can be higher or lower than it was. Of course things depend on multiple factors. Sellers can ask various prices even with very short timelapse.

 

For example the mumei sword with attiribution to den Rai Kunimitsu (伝来国光) at Jūyō 25 was quite recently sold by 2 Japanese dealers. Aoi Art had it for 4,5M yen, then shortly after it appeared on Samurai Nippon for 6,3M yen and it is sold. Did Aoi price it below the market price? For how much it actually sold? Could it appear for sale again shortly or is it now gone for good? I would agree with Kirill that on higher tier items in general we only see the stuff that comes up to the websites.

 

https://www.samurai-nippon.net/SHOP/V-1886.html

 

I think this is one of the swords I have seen at most dealer sites. For the last 10 years I have recorded this at 5 different dealers. It could of course have been sold or listed even more times than this. In 2010 summer it appeared at Iida Koendo for 1,8M asking price. I remember I have marked that they lowered it to 1,6M eventually. Then on 2011 autumn it was listed at Meirin Sangyo but they didn't have price for it online as it needed to be asked. In 2014 autumn it passed the NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon shinsa, and in 2015 it appeared at Aoi Art and it had 2,1M asking price. Then in 2018 fall it appeared for sale at Japanese Sword Society of Canada, with now suddenly there was a tachi koshirae for it. JSSC do not list prices for items as I believe they need to be asked. It seems to be still listed at their site but in 2020 it appeared on Katana Hanbai, which I believe is site for Ginza Maruhide. It had now again lost the recently added on tachi koshirae and was soon listed as sold so I do not have price for it.

 

https://web.archive.org/web/20100501011142/http:/iidakoendo.com:80/info/item/a226.htm

https://web.archive.org/web/20110921053235/http:/www.nipponto.co.jp:80/swords/KT118207.htm

https://www.aoijapan.net/katana-red-signature-rai-kunizane/

https://web.archive.org/web/20180917051137/http://www.japaneseswordsocietyofcanada.org/245-39.html

https://katanahanbai.com/katanahanbai/raikunizane/

 

To show my earlier point with price fluctuation through times I can show it with same item and same seller. Iida Koendo has had this den Shizu (伝志津) sword from Jūyō 9 with koshirae for sale few times with different asking prices. In early 2011 it was listed for 7,5M yen. Then in the late 2012 it had been lowered to 5,5M yen asking price and it sold shortly after that. And now recently it came up for sale again, this time with 8,8M yen asking price. Now Iida being one of the premium and top Japanese dealers sure knows his stuff and what he can ask for an item.

 

https://web.archive.org/web/20110313070519/http:/www.iidakoendo.com:80/info/item/a310.htm

https://web.archive.org/web/20121120102501/http://www.iidakoendo.com/info/item/index.htm

https://iidakoendo.com/758/

 

Here is one last one for this time. I actually thought this was extremely interesting deal, unfortunately I didn't have 1,5M yen of free money or I might have asked about it. I do not personally like the lower horimono on this but as items like this are super rare you often cannot get everything to your liking especially when considering the price. This is a naginata-naoshi wakizashi by Yoshioka Ichimonji smith Sukemitsu and it is dated to 1334. This was quite recently (2020) listed at Katana Hanbai for 1,5M yen, and I thought it was an amazing deal. Something I would love to own if only it had been possible. Then it got sold and it is now listed by Eirakudo at 3,5M yen. So unfortunately it is out of my personal reach now. Eirakudo seems to market it as a Jūyō candidate and due to the rarity I think it might have the potential.

 

https://katanahanbai.com/katanahanbai/yoshioka-ichimonji-sukemitsu-2/

https://eirakudo.shop/token/tanto/detail/417834

 

Lot of this is just speculative and quite puzzling stuff in my opinion. Unfortunately I don't have as much detailed info on more affordable stuff. I am definately not shopping in this market so I am not sure how prices have changed for Shizu etc. recently.

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Selling Japanese antiques to foreigners = slightly inappropriate.

Selling Japanese blades to foreigners is inappropirate. Every Japanese dealer has a nice story why they still do it. To advertise Japanese culture. To save Japanese sword from rusting in Japanese sea salted air. Because the blades they sell are from Fukushima and radioactive. Because they use proceeds to feed starving children at an orphanage.

 

JuBi+ is the level where most do not want to make excuses anymore. Its just inappropriate. The owner might do something illegal with those, because he is a foreigner. Maybe he'll get caught smuggling blades on a ship staffed with Russian fishermen and Korean prostitutes.  Everybody who ever associated with him will then be labeled as "involved" with the guy who took Japanese national treasure, did something and it ended up in the papers. Nobody wants that.

Maybe if you have a proper renome, maybe if you sponsor grand charities in Japan - maybe then you are different, absolutely no idea. But an ordinary foreigner owning such blade might face random issues starting literally from hotel and extending to all his business contacts. "Its inappropriate to mail things" to or for such people. Its inappropriate for them to lecture at universities. Why do you refuse to give the blade back to Japanese people?

Very many people will feel that way and will voice their concerns.

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It is interesting to read the various experiences and thoughts of the posters above. A big vote of thanks to those of you who have offered their views so far.

 

In my case I live in Japan and do not generally experience any glass ceiling, although lack of buoyant cash may mean that I am flying below such an invisible ceiling and have not yet banged my head on it. By the same token, much of the opinion above is probably true, and if I am honest I have probably sensed indications of inexplicable hostility from some quarters, even in my happy oblivion. ("As long as you remember your station." "The stake that sticks out gets hammered down." etc.) Luckily at my level I do not have to worry about security too much as there is nothing that would make anyone's fortune. (Some high flyers have become burglary targets, I understand.)

 

This brake on culture drain is not exclusively a Japanese thing however. The Chinese are quite sensitive about what cultural material can leave China, and the same probably goes for Korea. In the UK or France too, many people will step in and try to stop sales which could take nationally important artefacts abroad.

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My experience has been a welcoming one I must say. Foreigners have an advantage over Japanese: we can walk into a sword shop without second thoughts, visit a famous collector with the right connexions, and basically move freely far outside of the strict norms the Japanese must observe. In my experience there is far more friction between top Japanese collectors than from Japanese collectors to foreign collectors. There are complex webs of intra-dealer/intra-collector dynamics in Japan, and being outside of these webs gives us far more freedom. We are strange creatures outside of their world, and seeing foreigners interested (and most important of all, knowledgeable) in Nihonto is a point of pride and brings joy. Demonstrating knowledge and understanding opens many doors. 

 

As for prices, well, this thread inevitably promotes "ladder theory" in one way or another. There are shortcuts but they are noisy. One needs the Zufu volumes, and to study them to contextualize a blade. Translate setsumei, sayagaki, etc. Look for the devil hiding in the detail, and understand where the work sits within the corpus of the smith. 

 

 

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I agree with what Chris has said and have experienced the same openness  and welcome, within reason and politeness.  

One small caveat I shall make is that: very few people shop at Juyo level and have access to the Juyo Zufu, and additionally have the appetite to either learn kanji and Japanese (and translate themselves) or commission paid translations of the Juyo entries for comparison. 
 

I think we can simplify the rule to: do as much research as possible (physical, virtual etc) and do not rush before you buy. I would recommend studying for at least year or two before buying a first blade (preferably more) and discussing live with knowledgable people. With that behind you, you will slowly start getting a feel for the “market” (which could be a broad definition and encompass: online major auctions like Sotheby’s and Bonham’s, small local auctions, physical arms fairs, Western dealers, Japanese dealers, what collectors post here, etc) and also what you like (that changes over time - so the more patient you are, the more rewarding). 
 

Some people do more research, with more tools and have wider access. That is built over time. So, start gradually and work on connections and knowledge. 

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On 11/22/2021 at 11:52 PM, Bugyotsuji said:

In my case I live in Japan and do not generally experience any glass ceiling, although lack of buoyant cash may mean that I am flying below such an invisible ceiling and have not yet banged my head on it.

 

Kudos - you are probably better person than I, maybe the only one on the board or among gaijin (nihonjin in my experience are more realistic) in Japanese nihonto clubs to honestly admit something like that. Even in Tokyo one is constantly hit in clubs by janitors from local embassies trying to sell their services and expertise on the pretext they have amassed the top of the top collection, while in reality all they ever did was drinking with nihonto crowd for the past 60 years.

 

back to the question:

On the prices there is a theoretical "it must be like this" world, and each person has his own version of it, and there is objective reality.

The reality is that level of papers multiplied by attribution gives you more or less precise price range. Singed or not, condition, length, who's the seller further narrows it down. One can argue "but that's a great blade" and price it at twice the estimate, but unfortunately few will look at it. 2mln yen Yamato Juyos include some really good examples, lots of averages, and some absolute junk Mihara from 2X Juyo sessions. Not average blades, just plain junk. Good luck selling a great Yamato Juyo for 3.5m. "It can be TJ" - right, great chance of this happening today for Yamato. If you are top dealer with great name recognition - you can name your own price, certainly. Otherwise you'll get a lot of people laughing in your face "if it's such a great blade, you would have gotten TJ yourself". 

Unjustified? No.

Unfair? Yes.

Market price and quality are not the same thing.

 

If the blade is signed, then the gap between Juyo, TJ and TH can narrow down. The chance that you'll get substantially different attribution at Juyo level is no longer a strong consideration. Singed, ubu O-Kanemitsu is TJ material by default, and unless it has glaring detractions, it will be priced comparable to this level. With any papers.

Unsigned - its a bit of a lottery every time you submit. That's a serious price detractor every level down from TJ. 

It often has nothing to do with quality - if a blade has anything unusual, it can send the attribution sideways into much lesser name. If you are not bothered with this, you can get a top+ quality blade with very low papers (better yet pricewise - unpapered). Will it be commercial success? In the current climate, if it has no unusual features then usually yes. If it does - very likely sooner or later, at some level there will be issues.

 

On Japanese resistance to sell top blades - there is a reason why western museums have absolute top of the line tosogu, the kind of things one seldom sees even in Japan, but MET's blade collection is frankly speaking something reasonably wealthy beginner with but two years of experience should not be proud of.

I guess things kind of got relaxed after 1980s, but at some level (chokuto, blades with historical provenance bought in Japan) one is bound to start getting random flack.

Yes, there is a lot of classism and racism. I actually like it. The honesty which feels more comfortable to me compared to fantasy pretend world one encounters outside Japan.

 

Just my personal 2c.

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